By Tom Ehrich
I read letter-bombs from the leadership conflict at my seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, and I shudder.
I have done enough conflict-resolution consulting to know that this one isn't going to end well.
I have been neck-deep in enough of my own leadership conflicts to know that everyone is suffering mightily.
Today's seminaries are prickly places in the best of times. Students live in constant dread of being turned down for ordination. Faculty and administrators worry about declining enrollment. Trustees face budget woes and a sense of mounting irrelevance. Alumni lose touch.
These legions of dread do the usual thing, says a onetime classmate: they gang up on a scapegoat.
This conflict at EDS seems to be setting a new record for vitriol and political maneuvering. Students, faculty and alumni are described as "unanimous" in opposing the president and dean for her leadership style and lack of transparency. Trustees, who support her, say she has done everything possible to provide a safe listening environment.
Viewing this battle from afar, I come to two conclusions:
First, ordinands heading to congregations should remember this conflict as an example of how NOT to behave. Leadership conflicts happen constantly in churches, and they are made worse, not better, by tactics such as secret votes of no confidence, citing rules and procedures, encouraging non-combatants to take sides, and scapegoating.
Second, if we wonder why two successive generations of young adults have shunned our churches, we need only look at a conflict like this. Bitter feelings, toxic attitudes, strong accusations, people talking past each other, idolatry of right opinion, and a determination to win -- not to serve a "sinful and broken world," as our Prayer Book puts it, not to grapple with new realities affecting congregations, rather a determination to win.
In the end, one side will prevail. But the scapegoat that dies in the wilderness doesn't ever remove the sins and brokenness of those who sent it there. We do that by choosing to live in fresh ways and by following a better model than the win-lose battlegrounds that we create.